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Essential Fatty Acids: Opportunities to Educate and Expand the Market

Phase 2

The market for EFAs has widened to target consumers of all ages and provide formulations that include additional nutrients.

Though the essential fatty acid (EFA) industry experienced its share of setbacks due to negative attention from the media regarding omega-3 fatty acids, sales are on the upswing in 2016 with future growth expected in this category.

According to Ellen Schutt, communications director at the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) in Utah—whose mission is to promote the consumption of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to impact public health and to protect the category by making sure that there are quality products available for consumers—the challenge lies in the fact that consumers are hearing negative messages without hearing any positive news. “Omega-3s are primarily known for their heart health benefits in the U.S.,” she said, “although there is also strong science for brain and eye health, particularly in the prenatal and maternal health category. Omega-3s have more than 30,000 published papers on their effects, and more science on the benefits is published daily.”

Studies published in 2016 continue to support the need for omega-3 supplementation. A study published in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology found that omega-3 supplementation was associated with a 58 percent decrease in the likelihood of early preterm delivery and a 17 percent decrease in any preterm birth. Another study published this year out of Penn State found that omega-3 fatty acids could lower the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal obese women. A third study out of the University of Pennsylvania, found that supplementation with omega-3s reduced aggression when given to children who had a history of violence.

“Research proves that omega-3s are important throughout all stages of life, said Marci van der Meulen, natural sales manager, retail division at California-based Nordic Naturals, “so we anticipate that as the benefits of omega-3s are more widely known, new customer niches will emerge.”

State of the Market

According to Jennifer Bradley Weinhardt, BS, MS, research and development specialist at Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation in Texas, EFA sales at Bluebonnet have remained strong. “In fact,” she stated, “omega-3 sales are projected to reach $4.96 billion by 2020 according to Industry Experts Global Market Overview, and awareness of omegas as being critical nutrients for physical and mental health is increasing.”

Christopher Speed, vice president of sales at Ohio-based Wiley’s Finest had the same opinion. “EFAs are essential nutrients that are highly deficient in the typical U.S. diet. As awareness increases about their health importance,” he said, “the market will grow substantially.”

The National Academies of Science has not yet established dietary reference intakes (DRIs) for omega-3s in the U.S., though most physicians recommend that the average person consume between 250-500 milligrams daily. This can be obtained by eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week, taking a daily omega-3 supplement or enhancing your diet with omega-3-fortified foods. Health professionals may recommend additional omega-3 supplementation to consumers with cardiovascular disease and other chronic health conditions. In addition, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that everyone eat two servings of fatty fish per week. For those who don’t eat fish, they recommended a fish oil supplement.

“There has been a movement toward transparency within our industry with regards to sourcing of raw materials, testing, labeling and most recently, declaring whether or not supplements contain genetically modified ingredients (GMO’s,) shared Weinhardt. Alene Johnson, director of education at Barlean’s in Washington agreed, noting that traceability of ingredients is important to customers.

“The market is expanding,” said van der Meulen, “and there are some key areas where this is taking place. Prenatal omega-3 sales, for example, are excellent. We try very hard to provide something for everyone within our product line so that every customer can personalize his or her nutrition in a way that’s right for them. As part of this effort, we also offer condition-specific blends for very targeted health needs, as well as a variety of delivery forms to suit individual tastes.”

Consumer Confidence

Though the public is generally more well-informed about supplements in general, negative press and incomplete research about omega-3s is still a source of customer confusion.

Josh Boughton, natural products director at Village Vitality stores in West Hartford, CT and Woodstock, NY shared that customers in the store inquire about study findings they see on the news claiming that fish oil “does not work.” “Most customers think they know what they want, however the vast majority of people do not understand how much EPA and DHA they actually need to take,” he said.

“Most literature provided by fish oil companies is not useful,” he continued. [Companies] usually do one of the following—recommend dosages of EPA and DHA that are insufficient and ineffective or mislead people about where the fish oil comes from.” Boughton stated that many omega-3 manufacturers claim that their products are made of Norwegian fish oil, while the oil actually comes from Peru or Chili. “This is extremely misleading to the consumer,” he said.

He expressed that consumer understanding and confidence could be increased if companies included the amount of each omega-3 per serving on the label versus simply writing “1,000 mg” in large type on the product. In his experience, too many customers believe they can just take one or two pills to address any condition they are looking to treat without knowing how much EPA and DHA is contained within each pill.

“We have many people walking away from the fish oil category because no one explained to them how much EPA and DHA they actually need,” he stated. Boughton said he believes that the industry has an opportunity to grow the category with education and proper, honest labeling but fears people will continue to exit until that occurs.

Market Trends

“The current trend across all dietary supplement categories is to be more vegetarian-friendly as well as provide non-GMO (genetically modified organism) ingredients,” explained Weinhardt. “Vegetarian-aware consumers are becoming increasingly popular and now make up 25 percent of the U.S. population. That means that over 70 million people or one in four Americans are making vegetarian-aware choices each day, and 65 percent of these consumers acknowledge the benefits of taking regular, dietary supplements.” Bluebonnet offers several plant-derived EFAs including Life’s DHA, a product that provides a pharmaceutical-grade, vegetable-based DHA in a natural triglyceride form derived from marine algae and Plant-Based Omega-3•6•9 Softgels derived from flax seed, evening primrose and borage oils.

Another trend across retailers is the addition of other key nutrients to EFA formulations. Brands have incorporated antioxidants to address eye health, combat oxidative stress and support optimal cellular health in general.

Popularity of liquid formulations is also increasing as brands have responded to flavor complaints by developing tastier oil-based products and giving customers options when it comes to taking them. “We publish a recipe booklet to give consumers ideas on how to incorporate the liquids into recipes,” said Jolie Root, senior nutritionist and educator at Illinois-based Carlson Labs.

Barlean’s has found that their emulsified formulas are a great solution for customers. “These emulsifications make it easy and very enjoyable for any family member to be compliant in getting enough EFAs daily because of the creamy texture and delicious flavor choices,” explained Johnson. “The greater news is that these emulsifications are easily absorbed, even by consumers who have had a hard time with absorption of traditional oils or soft gels.”

New Products

Wiley’s Finest recently launched two new omega-3 products for children—Beginner’s DHA and Elementary EPA. The formulas are concentrated omega-3 fish oil supplements with other key nutrients in kid-approved flavors. Like Wiley’s other fish oil omega-3 supplements, they are NSP-certified as well as certified by the Marine Stewardship Council to be sustainably and responsibly wild-caught.

For toddlers, Beginner’s DHA delivers both EPA and DHA as well as vitamins A, D3 and MenaQ7 Vitamin K2, the first clinically-proven Vitamin K2 for bone health support. This product supports bone and brain development and boost immune system health.

Elementary EPA (for ages 4 and up) also delivers two essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA, as well as vitamins A, E, D3 and lutein and zeaxanthin—carotenoids that are important for healthy eyes.

Carlson Labs also recently introduced two new products for children in this category. Baby’s DHA is packaged with a convenient syringe to make accurate dosing easy. “The formula provides 220 mg omega-3s per milliliter (ml), and in a 5 ml dose also provides 400 IU of vitamin D3 which is the dose for newborns recommended by the Academy of Pediatrics,” said Root. Kid’s DHA was also just launched in an award-winning lemon liquid formulation. In addition to brain-boosting omega-3s, the supplement contains vitamins A and D3.

Carlson also launched Elite EPA Gems for adults, a highly-concentrated, EPA-only supplement with 1,000 milligrams of EPA in each soft gel to support optimal cardiovascular health.

In May of 2016, Nordic Naturals announced the release of Omega Curcumin, a first-in-kind product containing 1,000 mg of omega-3s with a patented form of curcumin that’s more than 65 times more absorbable than other forms of curcumin, as well as powerful antioxidants. “We’ve added the important antioxidants NAC [N-acetylcysteine] and L-glutathione to round out the formula, providing full support for the body at its foundational level, for cellular stress and recovery. Nordic Naturals Omega Curcumin is essentially four products in one,” stated van der Meulen.

Barlean’s newest formulation is Eye Remedy, an emulsified EFA product containing 1,000 mg of EPA/DHA with the addition potent carotenoids lutein, astaxanthin and zeaxanthin to support healthy vision and protect eyes from damaging blue light exposure. “This comprehensive formula is a delicious tangerine flavor and provides amplified absorption due to the emulsification of the ingredients,” said Johnson.

Bluebonnet’s most recent launch in the essential fatty acid category was Natural Omega-3 Kosher Fish Oil Vegetarian Softgels, one of the only products on the market offering EPA, DHA and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). Weinhardt explained that the soft gels are made from low-oxidant fish oils, which ensures greater stability, longer shelf life and prevents the undesirable smell and taste typically associated with omega-3 supplements. The formula has been validated as a non-GMO source of fish oil with natural mixed tocopherols, and is the only kosher fish oil on the market bearing this on the label.

Support for Retailers

“We offer a large number of promotional and educational materials on omega-3s to help increase sales and consumers’ interest in Nordic Naturals at the store level,” van der Meulen said. “Retailers can build their sales of our brand by choosing from items like floor displays, end cap posters, and educational brochures for customers, as well as more focused pieces that work at shelf to greet customers and sell individual products.”

Carlson Labs has found a unique way to assist retailers. In addition to their active demo program and strong support regarding in-store and online education, the company offers activity booklets for kids and omega-3 rich recipe booklets to provide to customers.

To further help retailers enhance sales, Weinhardt stressed the need to provide end caps and displays that focus on patented and branded materials in addition to highlighting clean label initiatives, such as allergen-free, non-GMO, and products that are free of artificial ingredients. Her other tips included renovation of the EFA department by making it interactive, as well as cross-merchandising EFA-related products and combining supplements and omega-3-rich food and beverages on the same end cap or display. “Avoid too much product redundancy,” she advised. “Focus on three popular items for an overall foundational approach to healthy living and then rotate on a monthly basis. For example, provide an end cap with Bluebonnet’s Natural Omega-3 Heart Formula plus Certified Organic Flax Seed Oil 1,000 mg Softgels with a food that is high in EFAs such as almonds or walnuts, and provide literature that states the benefits of each and merchandise accordingly.” VR

For More Information:
Barlean’s, (800) 445-3529
Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation, (281) 240-3332
Carlson Laboratories, (847) 255-1600
Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), (801) 746-1413
Nordic Naturals, (800) 662-2544
Wiley’s Finest, (740) 622-1072

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